Sofia, Bulgaria

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Flag of Bulgaria  , Sofia-grad,
Friday, July 20, 2012

After a short flight on Olympic Air (as Greece has cancelled its international trains) we arrived in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Despite its population of up to 2 million, Sofia is laid back and easy to get around a real contrast with Athens.

The country's communist history is strikingly reflected in the architecture and its capitalist transformation is on display in every shop window. Much like Russia, Bulgaria suffered an economic meltdown after the collapse of the USSR and has only in the last five to ten years begun to benefit from its economic transformation and membership of NATO and the EU in 2004 and 2007 respectively. Given the standard of living in Bulgaria is roughly 1/2 that of the average within the EU it is somewhat strange to note that the country has the 3rd fastest internet in the world! Go figure :)

We took advantage of a free walking tour of the city the first day and a free hiking tour the next. These are a fantastic initiative to attract more tourism and after 2 years it is apparently already paying dividends. During the 2 1/2 walk we were entertained with a myriad of interesting stories as well as the odd joke. It was interesting to learn that during WWII the Bulgarian king, under massive pressure from the population, defied his ally Hitler and refused to send the Jewish population to their extermination. The residents of Sofia are justifiably proud of their reputation for tolerance, which is physically reflected by the presence of a mosque, synagogue, orthodox church and catholic church all within a stones throw from each other (the square of tolerance).

Along with the communal bath house which is fed by natural springs, we were also fascinated by the St Georgi rotunda church which is the oldest architectural monument in Sofia and dates from the 4th century AD during the late Roman Empire. In front of it are the remains of the Roman Baths.

The statue of Sofia you see in the photos was constructed after the Iron Curtain fell and the statue of Lenin was removed from the spot. The local's were used to having a statue there and, despite her having absolutely nothing to do with the city other than coincidentally having the same name, they decided to erect a statue of St Sofia. She holds an owl symbolising knowledge.

Sofia is unique in that it is the only European capital city not to be located either next to the sea or on the banks of a major river. Instead, its water supply is guaranteed by more than 50 natural mineral springs located throughout the city.

We stayed in an awesome hostel called Hostel Mostel which Petra recommended. With a great vibe, free breakfast, dinner (though it was the same pasta each night) and beer you can't really go wrong!

We caught the tram to the train and bus station and caught a bus to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria's historical capital.
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Suz on

Great photos guys x

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